Righteous indignation swirled inside of Norma Jackson five seconds before reluctant curiosity took over. She narrowed brown eyes at the e-mail and read it again, slowly, to make sure the three lines said exactly what she’d initially processed.


Happy birthday!

Have a night on us.

Contact Max Worthington for more details.



Murph & Gids


Norma Jackson saw the e-mail had come from her cousin Gideon, with her sister Murphy carbon-copied on it, which meant this really was a Gideon Jackson production that Murphy had been coerced into cosigning. How much coercion and with what, Norma couldn’t be certain, but it said a lot that neither had bothered to call her directly to warn her about such an extravagant, completely ridiculous “gift”.

Bad enough Murphy was stuck in Europe on tour with her jazz quartet and Gideon had booked a photoshoot in the Bahamas—both last-minute once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that an off-year birthday could never supersede—but now they were throwing her into the clutches of a stranger? Happy birthday, indeed! Norma understood life could come at a body fast, but hers was going so slowly the tortoise had already lapped her twice and the hare was gearing up for the next race.

Sighing, Norma clicked on the link, rubbing her left hand over the closely cropped curls atop her head.  The feel of her natural tight coils soothed her as the site for Dream Dude LLC popped up on her monitor.

An escort service.

She blinked at the provocative poses of mostly shirtless men with their come-hither stares and too perfect everythings. They were not the dudes she dreamed of whenever she went to sleep.

There was no point in e-mailing Gideon back. She was most likely in the air by now and Norma still wasn’t quite sure where Murphy was, other than given the hour, Murphy was probably performing or asleep.  Shoulders hunched over, Norma began perusing the “Dream Dudes” with a soft scowl on her face. Some of them—most of them—were too pretty…too perfect. Intellectually, she understood why clients would go for them, but the conventional flawlessness they presented left her feeling meh.

Norma snorted at her gall. She hadn’t been on a date in nigh six years, having grown bored and disillusioned with the slim pickings the South Carolina Lowcountry offered. Gideon had always accused her of having too-high standards, but Norma could only like what she liked. She was a personable person, friendly enough, and understood her generous ass could compensate for the generosity everywhere else on her person.  She worked as an intake nurse at the one urgent care center in Moncks Corner to pay the bills, but squirreled enough away to pay for studio time in Summerville to throw clay.

She made ceramics, really nice ones if the small stable of clients she’d gained had anything to say about it. In fact, that was where she’d been for the majority of the evening, hoping to finish up a project and check on a few others before coming home.  Clay was still under her fingernails and upon her palms, but she didn’t mind. It was such a soothing, productive way to wind down from the workday.

Her cousin and her sister had said she could quit her job and pursue her art fulltime, but turning down a decent, steady paycheck over a passion seemed peak irresponsible. She wasn’t the beauty Gideon was or the talented musician Murphy was. Norma had only been doing ceramics for two years; that wasn’t nearly a long-enough track record to make that switch feasible. Nevertheless, there probably was a lot to be said that most of her disposable income, the little she had, went to studio time and supplies.  At least if she made this an official business, those expenses could become deductions come tax time.

Norma then groaned and shook her head before snickering. A website full of attractive men and she was thinking about her career, such as it was. Maybe she did need a night out.

Refocusing herself, Norma began scanning the men’s names instead of their bodies, figuring it was best to go directly to the Dream Dude mentioned in the e-mail, except no one was named Max on the site.  She did click on others, especially the images of the few men of color featured, and Norma blanched at their rates. The cheapest was two hundred dollars an hour, with zeros being added the longer the time requested.

Now she really felt some kind of way and wished she could call Gideon or Murphy for an explanation. She knew things had been picking up for both women, but enough they could splurge on a Dream Dude for a night at these rates? One night alone would cost more than Norma’s monthly rent, and she wasn’t prepared for anyone to drop that much money on a date that might not even go well.

She shook her head, covering her face with her hands. She shouldn’t think that way. Hell, maybe thinking that way had doomed her previous dates at the start.  It would be nice to do something exotic on her birthday for once, instead of the customary movie and milkshake she’d been treating herself to these past few years. Even last year for her big three-oh she’d been fairly pedestrian, although treating herself to an all-day throwing session at the studio and a nice take-home dinner from Carrabba’s had been a highlight. She’d even taken off work to celebrate, giving herself a nice, three-day weekend since it’d fallen on a Friday. Her sister and cousin had been slated to come help her celebrate with a night on the town, but Gideon had gotten sick days before just as Murphy had booked a career-breaking gig with a major jazz star that Norma had insisted she not give up for the sake of her birthday.

A regular martyr, she was.

Norma shoved her hand between her thick thighs and bit her lip in contemplation. What would be the harm in this, truly? She was grown, officially on the other side of thirty come the weekend, and what could it hurt to at least learn a bit about what Dream Dude LLC actually was?

If only she could find this Max character!

She clicked back to the e-mail and read through it again, this time reading down to the bottom of the page. She finally noticed the attachment, and .pdf.  She opened it to see Max Worthington’s business card. He was the Founder/CEO of Dream Dude LLC.

Of course he was. Gideon might not have graduated from a university, but she had a PhD in Doing the Most.

The .pdf was two pages showing the front and back of the card. The front was all typed text in a clean serif font with the company’s logo and Mr. Worthington’s contact information—all business related. On the back, however, was Gideon’s blocky script composed into a cellphone number and the directive of “CALL HIM TONIGHT!”

Norma checked the time on her smartphone. It was a little after eight. Not too late, but it was a Thursday night and maybe he had things to do? Or maybe he was expecting her call because why else would Gideon tell her that?

Licking her full lips, Norma unlocked the screen of her phone and pulled up the number pad. She typed in the area code, paused to take a deep breath, then added the other seven digits.

“Max Worthington.”

Norma gasped, and she really and truly didn’t mean to do so, but the bass in his voice was so resonant her entire body vibrated from it. She hadn’t expected that at all, and it’d caught her off guard.


Oh, absolutely not! He couldn’t say her name out of the gate like that! Even if the tone was full of doubt like it was, the two syllables of her very staid name sounded damn good from his mouth.

She cleared her throat. “Yes, hi. My cousin Gideon told me to call?”  That didn’t sound raspy or aroused at all. Good job, Norms!

He chuckled and she bit her tongue to stifle a whimper, squeezing her thighs tight together. She didn’t know what the hell was going on, but if it could stop post-haste, that would be great. She did have a thing for voices—the deeper, the better—but something about Max’s voice hooked her and wouldn’t let go.

“I’m sure she did,” Max said on the ending hills of his laugh. “She’s an…assertive person in that regard.”

“You’re too kind. Everyone else just says bossy,” Norma mumbled.

“You said it, not me,” Max confirmed, another laugh floating on the line. “She told me to put your number in my cell so I’d pick up the phone because this is your birthday and it’s important you have a good one.”

“Every birthday I make is a good one,” Norma said.

“That’s a very good point. I’ll remember that for myself,” Max said, and only then did she notice the hint of a Southern accent of some sort. It didn’t sound quite like what she was used to hearing where she was, but the way he stretched out some words and ended others with the consonants optional implied his home region.

“Sorry, I tend to do that,” she said with a wince.


“Get philosophical a smooth minute into a conversation,” Norma explained, cringing. “I’m working on not being so serious all of the time.”

“There’s nothing wrong with philosophy or thinking deeply,” he said. “I find it refreshing.”

Norma bit on her lip, now curious. “Would your Dream Dudes think the same?”

“Ah,” he said, humor back in his voice.  “My Dream Dudes will be whoever they need to be in order to make your time pleasant.”

“So, they’re actors?”

He laughed again.  “Some of them. Mostly, though, they’re attentive. They won’t be rude; and if the Date isn’t going well, they’ll leave early and prorate the fee. Can’t get paid the full amount if they don’t stay, you know.”

“Well, that’s fair,” Norma conceded.

“We try to be,” Max said. “Dream Dude LLC is all about making sure our clients get exactly the experience they want, but we know sometimes what’s on paper doesn’t always translate to live action. I don’t believe in penalizing people just because a connection isn’t made.”

“What if the person is being rude or obnoxious?”

“The Dude or the client?”


“If the Dude is, he’s fired and the client gets a full refund. If it’s the client, then they’re put on a probationary ban and they don’t get that Date’s fee refunded. First and foremost is respect, Norma. It must be mutually given to be received.”

With those words, a great bulk of her anxiety eased out of her system. She exhaled slowly and nodded, even though Max couldn’t see her.  “So you get clients of all shapes, sizes, walks of life?”

“Yes,” Max said. “I know the rates can be high for some of the Dudes, and that’s because they tend to be the most popular, but we have a referral service and sometimes we even do promotional Dates.”

“Why haven’t I heard of this before?”

“I don’t think Charleston is a market city for us, unfortunately.”

“Well, I can assure you there are women here who would definitely appreciate the service!”

“Like yourself?”

“I suppose so, or else my cousin wouldn’t have orchestrated this entire thing and I wouldn’t have called you.”

He laughed once more, and Norma was unaware she was as funny as he’d thought her to be. “There’s a vast misconception about the services an escort provides. I’ll spare you from that spiel right now in favor of asking you, who is your Dream Dude?”

“I don’t have one,” she said automatically.

“Really? No ideal date with an ideal partner?”

“Is this to help you match me with someone? Are they coming up to Charleston? I saw those rates for a travel overnight date! I wouldn’t do that to my sister or cousin, even if they are paying for this experience!”

“Let’s…slow down for a sec,” he suggested.  “Actually, do you mind getting on camera?”

The anxiety must not have gone far, because it was creeping back inside. “Why?”

“It’ll help me get a read on you, and then you can get a read on me too. This isn’t a one-way interaction, after all.”

“Do you do this with all of your nervous potential clients?”

“I do offer it as an option,” he said, “although it’s not me who’s usually doing these interviews.”

“Well, don’t I feel special?”

“Well, that is the goal of a Dream Date.”

It was her turn to laugh and she started to relax again. It turned out his voice could be as soothing as it was arousing. Really, what could be the harm?

“That seems to be the question of the night,” she muttered to herself.

“I’m sorry?”

“I said, that should be all right,” Norma amended aloud.  She looked down at the top she wore, white tank splotched with gray and brown clay. She should change her shirt.  She then eyed the foot of the bed where there were clothes draped on the comforter. She’d been in the process of packing, thinking she’d be meeting Gideon at the train station in Miami tomorrow evening before she’d read the e-mail.  She would not dress up, but she would put on clean shirt.

Except, the screen flashed and the video chat request popped up. Norma considered it for a moment, then shrugged and accepted it. He might as well get authentic!Norma right off the top.




Escort to Tenderness (c) 2016 by Savannah J. Frierson. Beta Read by LaVerne Thompson.